Food from Our Father
Bishop Estévez Inaugurates Diocesan Days of Eucharistic Prayer
By Lilla Ross
About 2,000 people from all over the diocese turned out March 9-10, for the first in a series of diocesan Eucharistic Congresses.
The event, “Become What You Receive,” began with a concert of sacred music on Friday evening under the direction of Dr. Bernard Sans, Frank DeProspo, Kim Cassagnia – and the choirs of St. Joseph Catholic Church, St. Anastasia Catholic Church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and Comunita Cenacolo. Following the concert was Compline (Evening Prayer) with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
Saturday began with Mass concelebrated by Bishop Felipe Estévez, Bishop Emeritus John J. Snyder and Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala.
For his homily, “Conversion to the Eucharist,” Bishop Estévez used the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 to describe God as a father “who delights in clemency” when dealing with his children.
“God is father/shepherd more than he is judge; his ultimate desire is to save from danger, to forgive and then nourish; the father fully realizes the hunger and emptiness of his children and worries about how to bring them out of distress in order to make them happy; the father anticipates all his children’s needs before they even realize them; his love for them makes him wholly identified with his children, wholly immersed in their place and shares their situations.”
The prodigal son and his father are both longing for one another, the bishop said.
The spiritual and physical hunger of the son is similar to our culture’s spiritual famine – “our culture’s tragic lack and disregard for precisely the only food that ultimately nourishes: Christ himself, the food the Father wants to give us.”
The son’s change of heart is made possible by discovering his father’s unconditional love for him, the bishop said.
“God’s forgiveness is not a ‘rational choice,’ a grudging concession or an act of condescension. God cannot help himself, because his love for us melts his heart,” the bishop said.
“The Eucharist invites us to become completely enfolded in the waves of love coming from our Father’s heart. God runs toward the repentant sinner.”
After Mass, Bishop Baker, formerly of the Diocese of St. Augustine, talked about “The Fruits of Communion.”
“The Jesus in the Eucharist remains with us after Mass to help us bring his presence into the world,” Bishop Baker said.
Through the sacraments “the Holy Spirit challenges us to give our love 100 percent to Christ in loving service of God and neighbor. … It is the Christ in the Eucharist who helps us go the extra mile when we would want to quit.
“It is the Christ of the Eucharist who helps us say ‘yes’ to a brother or sister in need, instead of saying ‘no.’ It is the Christ of the Eucharist who helps us pick up on a soured relationship, to forgive a person who is trying to harm us or destroy our reputation. It is the Christ of the Eucharist who helps us move from a selfish way of living and loving to a virtuous way of living and loving. It is the grace that flows from the Eucharist that enables us to attain holiness of life.”
He used as an example Comunita Cenacolo in Italy that helps men and women leave behind a world of addictive behavior. Three of their communities are located in the Diocese of St. Augustine.
There are many dimensions to Comunita Cenacolo, but the most important element is the Holy Eucharist, Bishop Baker said. The members of the communities develop a strong devotion to the Holy Eucharist.
“Christ becomes real for them. Christ liberates them from selfish and narcissistic attitudes and behavior. Christ teaches them gradually and over a period of time the true meaning of love in a world that has disconnected true love from everyday life.”
The season of Lent is a great opportunity to deepen one’s eucharistic spirituality by attending Mass daily or spending time in adoration, “to enter into the charitable mind and heart of Christ, so that great fruits will be born in our loving services of God and our neighbor, which can and will flow naturally from a deepened eucharistic spirituality.”
This year’s Eucharistic Congress is only the beginning. Bishop Estévez envisions annual congresses with the goal of “helping people grow in the amazement of the Eucharistic Lord.”
Photos by John Pemberton; Photos for the video are by John Pemberton and Don Burk.
(Top) Deacon George Good, from left, Bishop Estévez, Deacon David Yazdiya and Bishop Emeritus John J. Snyder celebrate the opening Mass of the Eucharistic Congress, March 9-10, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Jacksonville.
(Bottom) Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala., formerly of the Diocese of St. Augustine, delivered the keynote address entitled, "The Fruits of Communion."
Videos by Carlos Bouvier, Films by Design